L'Anse à la Baleine

Clues to the Past

Two Basque ovens are found in the Anse à la Baleine section of the island, including this one, which was used most often. Located a little further on, the second was a back-up.

During the digs here in the 1990s, archeologists learned a great deal about how the Indigenous and Basque occupants lived. The site, named Hoyarsabal, alludes to an important family of Basque navigators. It is thought to be one of the oldest known points of contact between the first Europeans and the Indigenous peoples of the St. Lawrence Valley.


Photo credit : Gabriel Laflamme

Hard Work

The oven was built from granite and shale stones bonded with local clay. It sits on a slab of clay, and its walls are one metre thick and one metre high. Circular in shape, it supported a large copper cauldron in which the blubber was placed to be melted. The fire underneath had to be constantly stoked. A wooden structure topped the whole oven to protect it.

On returning from their whale hunt, once the animal had been towed into the cove and hauled as far as possible ashore, the Basques had plenty of work to do. First, the whale had to be butchered. Then the blubber, which was very heavy, had to be cut into pieces so that it could be transported to a nearby oven. Don’t forget that a whale measuring almost 20 metres in length can weigh between 40 and 50 tonnes!


Source : shgtp.org

Illustration credit : Léopold d'Amours


The Stone Stele

The aim of all this was to render the whale blubber and reduce it to oil that could be put into barrels. Basque boats would return to Europe laden with this precious liquid, because at the time, not incidentally, European cities were lit by oil lamps.

If you look towards the river, a few meters to your left, you'll see a stele built by the Société Provancher in 1938. The plaque, featuring an excerpt from the Jesuits’ 1664 work titled Relation, quotes Father Henri Nouvel about his visit to the island.


Photo credit : Nathalie Renaud

Extract of
Wild Life & History Tour of L'île-aux-Basques

Wild Life & History Tour of L'île-aux-Basques image circuit

Presented by : Société Provancher
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